By Ben Reynolds
Herald sports editor
HOOD RIVER The plight of Darrin White into the Intermountain Conference district tournament was very similar to most of his teammates.
The junior came in off a pretty successful season, but had yet to break through at the big tournament. The same held true for Hermiston as a team. The young Bulldogs with just three seniors entered in the tournament, were under the radar and most didn't know what to expect.
But White and Hermiston picked up where they left off during the dual meet season and turned heads in arguably the toughest conference in the state.
White earned just one of two falls in the finals to win the 171-pound district title as Hermiston advanced nine individuals on Saturday night at Hood River Valley High School to the state tournament that starts Thursday in Salem.
"We have kind of been unheralded all year," Hermiston coach Curt Berger said. "This shows we're going in the right direction. We performed higher than we have all year."
Hermiston, which finished second only to Pendleton during the dual meet season, was third with 283 points. Pendleton ran away with the district title with 385.5 points, sending 14 kids to state, Redmond was second with 336 points.
"It's more than what people thought we were going to take (to state)," said senior Keith Saucillo, who won the 112-pound district title.
White, who had a rough ending to his junior season with two losses in his last four conference matches, came into the tournament as the No. 3 seed. White breezed through his first two matches Friday to reach the semifinals. The bracket opened up for White and the others early Saturday morning when Redmond's J.D. Wilson, the No. 1 seed and highly-ranked in the top-5 in the state, failed to make weight. Crook County senior Chase Raymond earned a forfeit into the finals, while White needed a 1-0 upset over second-seeded Kevin Cholin of Crook County to win his semifinal match. In the finals, White earned his third fall of the tournament, after leading 10-3 to record the pin at the 4:42-mark.
"It feels wonderful," White said. "All I wanted to do is place and it happened better than I thought."
Saucillo, who had been in the finals of the district tournament the past two seasons, finally broke through as a senior.
He went nearly untouched during the regular season and it stayed that way all the way through the finals. Saucillo said he wasn't about to settle for second place for a third straight year, and his performance reflected that. Saucillo went out and dominated highly-ranked Tanner Robertson of Redmond and nearly earned the fall before settling for an 11-3 major decision.
"To come here and take first as a senior is pretty exciting," Saucillo said. "I just wanted to go out there and wrestle like I have never wrestled before and that's what I did."
Saucillo, who entered the tournament with a perfect 8-0 league record, did not get a chance to wrestle Robertson during the regular season because Robertson was held out of the dual meet for disciplinary reasons.
After the match, Berger said Saucillo made a statement about his desire to win.
"Sometimes you wonder how bad you want to win," he said. "Everybody could tell how bad he wanted to win."
White and Saucillo were the only two of the five Hermiston wrestlers to win in their championship matches. The 135-pound final with teammate Brent Parks brought the crowd to life.
Parks, who has emerged as one of the state's best in his sophomore year, got another crack at Enoch, who was ranked second in the state. Parks and Enoch rolled around on the match, with neither wrestler gaining control until Parks reached out and grabbed Enoch's ankle and recorded a takedown for an early 2-0 lead.
Parks, the second seed, lost to Enoch 9-4 in their match during the dual meet season, added to his lead with an early reversal in the second round to go ahead 4-0. But Enoch managed to come back and scored seven unanswered points to take a 7-4 victory.
"He had him in so much trouble," Berger said. "He is absolutely one of the best kids in the country."
Hermiston senior and top-seeded Tye Schaffeld fell one point short of his first district title. Schaffeld gave up a late reversal and lost 4-3 to Shawn Moyer of Redmond in the 160-pound final. Moyer defeated Schaffeld's teammate Danny Hall in the semifinals 6-0.
Sophomore Troy Kessell also fell one win short of his first district title. Kessell could not get going against Pendleton's Justin Williams and lost a 5-0 decision.
Kessell's best offensive move came late in the first round when it appeared he had a takedown and possibly a near fall, but was ruled out of bounds. Williams, the No. 1 seed, scored with eight seconds left in the opening round and added a third-round take down.
Hermiston, which had 11 wrestlers in the semifinals Saturday morning, had six come up short and put in the consolation bracket. Of the six that lost, four came back to take third and advance to the state tournament.
Ryan Barton, Randy Larson, Danny Hall and Josh Barraza all took third and earned their first trip to the state tournament.
"We had a pretty rough round in the semis," Berger said. "The kids came back and wrestled real tough and that's what you got to do."
Barton, after losing 2-0 to Justin Martin of Redmond in the semifinals, came back through the consolation round with a fall and picked up a 7-3 win over Jess Cruise of Crook County to take third.
Larson, a freshman, was on the defensive most of his semifinal match, got to overtime with Crook County's Luke Thompson after Thompson was called for stalling with 1.8 seconds left in the match. Thompson then recorded an escape six seconds into the extra period to win 7-6 and advance to the finals at 152 pounds. After a fall in his first consolation match, Larson came out aggressive against Redmond's Tanner Hase, picking up four takedowns en route to a 9-1 major decision. Larson beat Hase 3-1 in overtime in the team's dual meet.
Hall, who was seventh at last year's district tournament and had not wrestled in the varsity lineup during the conference dual meet season, losing out to Schaffeld at 160 pounds, made the most of his final tournament with a pin in his third-place match over Brandon Story of Crook County.
"It kind of caps it all off," Hall said.
Barraza locked up his first trip to state with a dominating 12-1 win over Kenny Horton of Redmond.
Also placing for Hermiston were: freshman Chase Winters (103) took fifth; freshman Frankie Perez (119) was sixth; freshman A.J. Almaguer (125) was fourth; sophomore Kyle Saucillo (130) was eighth; sophomore Marty Britt (140) was fifth; sophomore Kevin Verwey (171) took fifth.
"We had guys that came here, wrestled and did their job," said Berger, "I am real happy with that."